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Under His Nose

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 Nominated for the 2016 No Rest For The Wicked Awards

Category: Window Of Opportunity (best original plot/au)

Winner Runner Up

  

Chapter One

John Sheppard stood under the spray from the shower, head tilted forward, as he scrubbed at his hair. He could still smell the stench of the Wraith base everywhere around him and it was triggering bad memories, both from the mission he’d just returned from and from missions on Earth where he’d lost friends and others.

Sumner was dead and John was the ranking officer, but he didn’t want it. John didn’t want the responsibility or the weight of the lives of everyone on this base on his shoulders. But he knew Weir wanted him to take it. And he had stepped forward when Sumner and the Athosians had been taken. It had been instinctive.

John was constitutionally incapable of leaving a man behind. He’d come to terms with that years before, well before the black mark that had sent him to Antarctica. And now, every Marine, every scientist, every Athosian, everyone on this floating city was his to oversee. There was no one else. Not really. Ford was much too young and naive. Bates was too xenophobic.

And how the hell had someone like that been in this program long enough to get on this expedition in the first place , John wondered. The entire makeup of this mission was screwed up from the start. Sumner was the only high ranked officer among the Marines. And to have a civilian in charge. I like Weir, I guess. At least so far. She’s a bit pushy and she was willing to leave our men and new allies in the hands of the enemy, but she’s a diplomat, not a soldier. And diplomats are really more about the Big Picture and the Greater Good than about the real people. Which come to think of it is another reason she shouldn’t have been given command of this mission.

From the reading I’ve crammed in over the last few months, going through the Stargate has always been dangerous, from the very beginning. Why did they think going to another galaxy, where we’d be completely cut off from Earth for who knows how long would be any different? Granted, the Wraith are beyond fucked up and even worse than the snakes in the Milky Way, but someone had to wonder why the “lost city” was lost.

According to Dr. Jackson, the Ancients flew Atlantis here from Earth millions of years ago. Why would they not fly it back when they returned to Earth? They were under siege. We know now. But didn’t Jackson think about that? Didn’t anyone? And add to the legends about Atlantis, a city sunken under the ocean, and you decide to send a large group of scientists with some soldiers under a civilian diplomat ?

What would Weir have done if we had run into some Goa’uld here? We don’t have the backing of the Asgard who saved us back home. And now I have to dance around her and keep us safe from Marilyn Manson space vampires at the same time. Plus whoever and whatever else is out there.

I knew I should have flipped that coin again. Best two out of three or three out of five.

John scrubbed his arms, glad at least this ancient city had working plumbing and evidently unlimited hot water. He wasn’t sure how long he had been in this shower, but he knew most places on Earth would have started running cold by now. The stench of the Wraith base was starting to finally fade.

But there was this spot on his right wrist that just wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t dirt. Or it didn't seem to be. John lifted his wrist to his face and stepped out of the spray so he could see properly. He wiped the excess water from the area and his fingers traced the silvered letters that spanned his inner wrist. M-E-R. That was it. Three letters, fairly large, all capitals, printed but not in an electronic font type of way. More like a young hand. Not sloppy but not neat, either. John couldn’t understand this. What was MER? Did it have something to do with the Ancient tech gene? No one ever told him he would get a tattoo. It was pretty in a weird, how-the-hell-did-this-happen way.

John finished his shower and decided not to reveal his new wrist art to anyone, unless they asked. It was odd and if it was expected, then he would wait until Weir or McKay or Beckett asked him about it. Until then, he’d just keep it covered. He usually wore the leather wristbands his mother had bought him when off duty anyway. And now, here, he was the one in charge and could declare them part of his uniform and no one could object unless or until they made contact with Earth. And by then, surely he would know what it meant. It could have something to do with being on this Ancient city and him having the mutant Ancient gene in such strength. He’d find out eventually. He’d keep an eye on it, see if it changed over time or as he interacted more with the city systems or something. If it spread or hurt or changed color or anything weird, he’d talk to the doc. But until then, being in a floating city that could fly, and preparing to fight space vampires was more than enough for one week.

--

John walked into the large room near the gate room and not far from the room Weir had claimed as her office and took a seat. There was a large sort of oblong table and John supposed it could be called a conference table if one were being generous. He slouched in his chair, his eyes at half mast, seeming to be daydreaming. In reality, John was taking in the entire room, the exits, the alcoves, the shadows, everything in sight. It was learned behavior and John could no more stop it than he could stop breathing. He had learned to observe his surroundings and threat-assess early in life.

Patrick Sheppard hadn’t been physically abusive. Not often, at least. Not before Simone Sheppard had died. After, well, between the increase in Patrick’s drinking and John’s own grief manifesting as rebellion and a smartass attitude, the smacks got more frequent and John’s abilities refined. It all led to John joining the Air Force and eventually making a full break with his family after his divorce.

The only reason it lasted that long was because his father had hoped Nancy would get him to retire and take his place in the company. When John gave up on the farce his marriage to Nancy had become, Patrick Sheppard gave up on his youngest son and never spoke to him again.

And John’s time in the Air Force, especially during his brief three year stint in the shadier sections of the service, made the behavior deeply ingrained and instinctive. As other members of the senior staff entered this conference room, John catalogued them in his mind, all while seemingly nearly asleep.

The first through the door was Doctor Carson Beckett, the gene carrier who had nearly shot John’s helicopter out of the air in Antarctica. John didn’t blame him anymore, not really. He knew Beckett was terrified of his own gene and what it could do when interacting with this ancient tech. But he’d come on the expedition anyway. He put the good of the people he could help ahead of his fear. John approved of the man and hoped they could become friends over time.

The doctor was dressed in the standard uniform of khaki pants and a light shirt zipped halfway down the chest. He wore a standard white lab coat over the rest and was carrying a tablet in his right hand and a mug of something hot in his left hand.

Next into the room was Sergeant Bates. He was dressed in the uniform of the Marines in the Stargate program, gray pants, gray jacket with the US flag on the arm. The jacket was fully zipped and fastened, the arms tight to the wrists, not rolled up like he had seen in Colorado at times. John wondered if he felt the need for formality in this new situation: a new galaxy, a dead commanding officer, a civilian leader of the expedition, a horrific new enemy, and John, a man he didn’t quite understand or respect, in charge of the military.

The soldier sat at attention in the chair next to John and laid the computer he’d brought with him on the table. He nodded to his commanding officer and sat quietly, back straight, head up, a stark contrast to the man at his side.

John still wasn’t sure he was going to get along with the other man but he had no real choice but to give him authority. Bates’ rank and place within Sumner’s coterie made it impossible to shunt him into a dead-end spot and it wasn’t like John could send him back to Earth. Some thought had John deciding to keep him on the city, though. His attitudes toward “aliens” echoed that of the late Sumner and they needed allies here in Pegasus, not more enemies. A fairly xenophobic leader of a gate team would be more likely to gather the latter not the former, especially with the Atlantis expedition technically being the aliens, not the natives they were meeting. And Bates had too much rank and seniority not to be a team lead if he was on a team.

John felt the other Marines would accept Bates as head of city security fairly readily. It was sort of a promotion. John wasn’t sure Bates would see it that way, but technically, he would have more authority than Sumner would have granted him, so there.

Lieutenant Ford entered the room, also in the standard Marine uniform for the expedition. John noted his sleeves were not just tight around the wrist, but his left wrist had a rubber band around the sleeve, holding it close to his arm.

John truly liked the younger man. He found him amusing but incredibly wet behind the ears for his rank. John was going to put him on his own gate team. It would help season him, placate the Marines with a high ranking one of their own on the premier team, and give him someone with a bit of experience with gate travel against his own lack, as well.

Within a minute, the rest of the senior staff entered and took seats. Weir was dressed in the civilian standard uniform minus the jacket. Her red shirt was zipped most of the way and there was an ace bandage wrapped around her right wrist.

John was still on the fence about the diplomat leader of the expedition. He was reserving judgment. She was nice and sweet, he supposed, but she had a stubborn streak wider than the Mississippi, as evidenced by her pushing at him to come on the expedition as a light switch, wanting him for his gene, and pushing him and the military to get her way. Time would tell, John decided.

McKay was in the khaki and blue uniform of the science staff and his jacket was half undone. His hair was sticking up slightly and he didn’t appear to have slept at all. He carried a huge travel mug and two tablet computers. His left wrist was covered in what looked like at least a dozen band-aids.

John found the other scientist amusing. He was abrasive and loud, to be sure.  But his brilliance was unmistakable. And John enjoyed making him stop and reevaluate, like he had when he knew how many gate combinations Ford’s symbols could be. John wasn’t a crazy genius like the Canadian but he was smart enough to test at genius level when he tried, and math came as easy as breathing to him.

John had decided he would get to know the other man and if his first instincts proved correct, he would invite him to be on his gate team. They would need a scientist, and why not the head. They needed to find tech and McKay was more likely to understand it quickly than most of the others he could take. Plus it would show the civilians he wasn’t a hard ass like Sumner, having a civilian scientist on his team rather than a Marine one.

John needed all of the members of the expedition to trust him if he was going to do his job properly and have any real chance of keeping them all alive until they could reestablish contact with Earth. John hated being manipulative but he knew it was necessary.

Doctor Heightmeyer, the shrink for the expedition, was wearing civvies; jeans and a long sleeved white shirt under a light grey lab coat. She had a wide, chunky bracelet on her right wrist, and carried a PDA.

John didn’t really know the woman. He had memorized her stats, education, age, background, but he hadn't seen her professionally and really had no plans to do so. Her appointment was another mistake in his opinion. Or, not her actual appointment , but the fact that she was the only counselor for the expedition and was a civilian. John didn't care how long she had worked with the program, she was a total civilian, pretty and sweet. She had absolutely no weapons or hand to hand training. The closest thing in her file was yoga. They were going to be facing serious battle situations here with horrific deaths (if Sumner’s was a judge) and she would never be able to really connect with the soldiers who would need her expertise. There should have been a military shrink included on the expedition. Or at least, a shrink with a military combat background, even if they were currently civilian.

John couldn’t believe how horribly this expedition had been staffed and supplied. They had treated it like a long camping trip, even though everyone kept emphasizing that it could be a one-way trip. They should have treated the expedition like a colonizing party, not a normal long-term gate team. But when they left Earth, John hadn’t had the seniority or anything to get someone to listen to him. He was only along because Weir wanted his gene and his ability to turn on and manipulate Ancient tech.

Peter Grodin was wearing the light blue uniform shirt and khaki pants and for the first time since they’d formally met in Colorado, the man’s sleeves were not rolled up. He held a cup of what looked like coffee and placed it on the table in front of Weir as he took the seat to her left.

John didn’t know the man well but found him professional and smart. His actions this morning seemed a bit kiss ass but John would reserve judgment. It could be Weir had “ordered” the coffee and he was delivering it.

And just as Weir looked like she was about to start to speak, Teyla Emmagan, the Athosian they had met and rescued, entered the room and slid into a seat next to Ford on John’s right. Her leather outfit was tight and her wrists were both covered in bracers which was no different from the day before.

John truly liked the feisty young woman. He hoped he could convince Weir of her expertise and put her on his gate team. There was precedent, after all. SG-1’d had an alien, Teal’c, on their team from the very beginning. And Teyla would be an excellent guide in this unknown place. Having a native along was better than depending on information over ten thousand years out of date.

Weir looked annoyed at Teyla’s presence but in the end allowed her to remain. As the civilian leader opened her mouth to begin, John slid upward in his seat, his eyes fully open and his slouch much less noticeable.

Weir began the meeting by making a show of welcoming their new friend, a smile so fake on her face John thought it would have been appropriate in Batman. Teyla smiled in return, bowing her head in deference to a powerful ally, her mouth set in a tight smile John felt would fracture her teeth behind her lips if she held it much longer.

After the diplomatic fakery, Weir turned to each member of the senior staff and inquired as to the status of their area. McKay reported the city was stable on the ocean’s surface and the naquadah generators were keeping it there just fine and handling their current power needs without an issue. He explained his scientists were first spending their time exploring the tower which housed the gate. They would spread out from there.

Grodin reported he had set up a schedule for personnel to man the gate room and he wanted to expand the number of people who could use the controls and understood their purpose. Weir agreed.

The shrink told them she was still looking for an appropriate room for her office and would set up hours within a few days. Until then, if anyone needed her services, she would improvise.

John told the others he was in the process of setting up a rotation for security personnel in key areas, as each area was explored. He would place at least two Marines on duty near the generator power room and several in the gate room on the main level in case of incursion. “I’d also like to announce I am appointing Sergeant Bates as Head of Base Security. We’ll work together to keep the base as secure as possible for a city this large with as few personnel as we have. I’m also going to be putting together five gate teams to start with. We need to start meeting more people. I know we only have limited supplies and it isn’t like we can plant crops on the pier out there. We’re in the middle of an ocean on a floating metal city. We need food, we’ll eventually need medical supplies, clothing, and potentially weapons. The sooner we get started, the better on that front. We’ll also keep an eye out for Ancient tech and those ZPM things McKay was so excited about.”

“Very well, John. I agree with his appointment; we’ll discuss the teams and their priorities when we get them set up.”

You agree with his appointment? I’m the fucking head of the military on this base! I don’t want to be but I am! You don’t get to agree! You just get to be informed! Damn it! And who is this fucking we kimosabe? Fuck, fuck, fuck, I hate this already! And since fucking when were we on a first name basis?!? She’s undermining my authority in front of Bates and Ford and the others. She did the same thing to McKay and Beckett. She called them Rodney and Carson. And Grodin was Peter. Fucking fuckity fuck! If this is some kind of boardroom bonding crap, I’m going to toss something out a window. Preferably her.

John nodded his head calmly, his face showing none of his inner anger at the condescension but feeling incredibly close to Sumner suddenly, knowing the other man had understood exactly the shit he would have to put up with under the civilian leader of the expedition. John felt it explained, at least partly, the stick he had up his ass where Weir was concerned. And his attitude about John. He knew John had disobeyed orders in the past and with a civilian as Sumner’s boss, and the lack of contact with higher authorities on Earth, Sumner likely feared John was Weir’s spy. And John himself hadn’t helped with his attitude and snark in the gateroom in Colorado.

“Let me make myself clear, Major. You are not here by my choice.” Sumner had scowled at him.

John had tried to be friendly but Sumner reminded him on some level of Patrick Sheppard and that never turned out well for someone in authority over John. “I'm sure you'll warm up to me once you get to know me, sir.”

Sumner’s scowl had deepened. “As long as you remember who's giving the orders.”

John had smirked and been a smartass, giving a very wrong impression, he was now positive, “That would be Dr. Weir, right?”

Sumner had glared and John was sure that was the moment when the Marine had given up on him.

John tuned back into the meeting as Weir turned her attention from some issue with the database McKay had mentioned and asked the next senior staff member for their report.

Doctor Beckett reported on the discovery of a space that was medical in nature he had claimed as the infirmary. He said they were currently ready to handle minor issues - cuts, sprains, minor burns, even broken bones as long as they weren’t compound fractures that broke the skin. Surgery was not ready yet but he did concede in the event it was needed in an emergency situation before he had a sterile operating room, he would be able to use MASH procedures to do what was necessary.

“I just request you try not to need surgery for some time. We think we’ve identified an appropriate space but it won’t be ready for a few days yet. So, lads and lasses, be careful with yer weapons, no bullet holes until then, ye ken?”

The senior staff chuckled or smiled or scowled as per their disposition and station to the doctor’s quip.

“But, Elizabeth, lass, that wrap isn’t from the infirmary. Did you sprain it? I can examine ye after the meeting and re-wrap it properly. You may need more support if it is a bad sprain. It could even be a minor fracture. You can be the first to officially use the Ancient scanner we found. It acts like a cross between an MRI and an X-Ray machine, we think.”

Weir shook her head at the enthusiastic Scottish doctor. “I’m fine, Carson. Honestly.”

McKay sat forward and reached for her wrist and she pulled it back from the table where she had it lying. “Wait, Elizabeth. You just told Carson it was fine. If it isn’t strained, why do you have it wrapped?”

Weir remained silent and McKay held up his own bandaged wrist. “There’s some kind of funky Ancient contagion, isn't there? You’ve got writing on your wrist, don’t you? I was going to see Carson after the meeting but you’ve got it, too. We’ve been exposed to some Ancient virus and it’s going to kill us or worse, cover us in tattoos.”

John snorted, “Calm down, Hermione . You have interesting priorities. Death is better than tattoos? Wow, McKay, that is not normal.”

McKay glared at him and then looked down at his leather covered wrists. “It got you, too! I thought maybe it was some reaction because we didn’t have the gene but Mister Super Strong Gene Air Force Major got it, too! Is this something you brought back from the wraith ship? Maybe it has nothing to do with the Ancient tech and is something to do with the space vampires? Did you infect us, Major?”

Weir blinked at them. “You have a na- you have writing on your wrist, too? Both of you?”

Doctor Beckett sighed. “I’ll admit to the same. I have what can only be called a first name tattooed in silver on my wrist. All of my nurses and both of the doctors who were on duty this morning have also reported the same thing. I was going to bring it up with Rodney and ask him to search the Ancient database later.”

John sat up straight. Okay, so maybe MER is a name. It’s weird, probably alien, but it could be a name. He turned to face Bates. “Sergeant, I’m not going to ask you to show it, but do you have a new tattoo?” The stern-faced man nodded once and Ford chimed in with a “Me too, sir.”

At that, the other expedition members in the room admitted to the same. Over the last twenty-four hours each of them had noticed the appearance of a silver word on their wrist, some on the left, some on the right. McKay began to freak out about Ancient viruses once more and stopped abruptly when light musical laughter rang out from Teyla.

“Do you people not search for your marked? Have none of you been marked before coming here? Is your galaxy so devoid of love?”

“Love?” asked Weir.

“I have never met a person, other than the Wraith, who was not marked when their bodies became adult. The name of the one person who is your perfect match, the other half to your very self, is revealed. Very few find their matches but those who do are revered and envied. I have not met a matched pair in my lifetime, nor did my father in his. But it is said matched pairs are blessed and have strange powers. Stories tell of a time when pairs were more plentiful, but that was many generations ago, before my father’s father’s father’s father was born. Now, the Wraith have culled so many, it is difficult and dangerous to go on a match hunt to other worlds. Some do but they are few, so you must have great luck to come across your match. Most do not wait.”

McKay spoke up. “Other half of you? Wait, wait, wait! This is some mystical soulmate thing? Some mystical force gives you a tattoo when you reach adulthood? Or do you do it yourselves?”

“No, it simply appears when our bodies become adult.”

“So, there's no crazy ceremony where you drink tea and paint your bodies and inject some radioactive stuff into your veins so they glow and - “

John interrupted. “McKay! She said it just happened. When their bodies become adult. I assume that means when they reach puberty. Besides, none of us have been in any kind of tea ceremony where we got tattoos, symbolically or otherwise. And it isn’t like the Athosians could have done it in our sleep. There are too many of us and not enough of them. Plus, I saw mine before I went to bed last night, so calm down. Maybe you can follow Doctor Beckett’s suggestion and look in the Ancient database for information?”

Weir nodded. “Yes. Good idea. See what you can find out, Rodney. Meanwhile, make sure everyone understands what Teyla says this is. Let’s keep the freakouts to a minimum and the information flow on max, all right?”

Bates spoke up. “We need to make a list of everyone’s tattoos. It’s regulation.”

“I don’t know, Sergeant Bates.” Weir frowned at the man’s words.

“Names are very private things, Doctor Weir.” Teyla said. “Many never bare their wrist to another, even if they bond in marriage. Unless you find the name, it is never shown. It is a very spiritual thing.”

Weir nodded. “I agree with Teyla. If someone wants to reveal their name, it is their choice. The only thing we need to know is if it is on their left wrist or their right wrist. And if they have one or not. Now, we can’t walk around with long sleeves all the time or bandages, like Rodney and I. Suggestions?”

Teyla sat forward. “I had assumed when I saw Major Sheppard’s wristbands they were what your people used to keep the name private. I suggest something like that or like my own band. There are many people who make different kinds of coverings but the bands are the easiest and the least likely to inadvertently show off the name. I am sure several of my people have extras with them. The woman who makes them for my people, Charon, may have her entire stock. She was always ready for cullings and often kept her bag ready to grab. They are highly tradable items and I am sure we can come to an agreement on their worth to you. As payment for our stay here in the city of the Ancestors.”

Weir nodded. “You can take me to see this Charon after the meeting and we shall see.”

John sat back with a sigh. At least he already had bands. As the meeting continued, dealing with random minutiae, the majority of John’s attention turned to the three letters on his wrist. M-E-R. I wonder if that’s a man or a woman? I’ll have to find a way to subtly question Teyla on whether same sex soulmate pairs have ever occurred.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Rodney McKay sat in his customary chair at the conference table for the weekly (or so) senior staff meeting of the Atlantis Expedition. His hands were wrapped around a mug of not-even-close-to-coffee. It was caffeinated and sort of brown but otherwise it bore no resemblance to his favorite beverage, the supply of which had run out over a month before. All the scientists practically mainlined the new stuff because it was weaker than what they were used to and they couldn’t afford to take time out for caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

It had been bad enough during the first few weeks when the handful of morons who should have been smarter than to even start poisoning their bodies had used the last of their cigarettes. Elizabeth had refused to use their limited trade on any type of tobacco or nicotine substitute and none of the so called brilliant medical minds who had packed for the expedition had thought to send smoking cessation medications or patches. Rodney always knew the pseudo science was more voodoo than science and that proved it. They probably decided which supplies to send by looking at sheep entrails or tarot cards. The sole high point was only eight of the scientists on the expedition had been smokers before walking through the Stargate to come to Pegasus. And five of them had been in botany and archaeology. So, Rodney hadn’t expected much from them anyway. The three who had been real scientists had been low on the totem pole and only annoyed their immediate superiors while going through the withdrawal from the cancer sticks.

Rodney wasn’t sure how many of the grunts or non-science staff civilians had been stupid enough to come to Atlantis addicted to cigarettes though he knew there had been a few. But Rodney knew the number was lower than it would have been in a regular military command. Any of the grunts who regularly went through the Stargate back at Stargate Command were quickly weaned from tobacco. It was a policy of Generals Hammond and O’Neill Rodney found admirable and surprisingly smart for career military men. Then again, he had heard the horror stories from the early days of Stargate exploration and the team who was stranded without enough cigarettes for a length of time. Those priests had been working for the Goa’uld but still it was a horrific way to die, literally torn to pieces at the hands of an entire team in the midst of severe nicotine withdrawal.

The good thing about coffee and caffeine addiction though, was Elizabeth was just as addicted as most of the expedition so had no regrets about trading for the substitute Rodney was currently imbibing, which wasn’t even made from beans but still had plenty of caffeine. She also was spreading around the wonders of Athosian morning tea. Rodney had tried it and it certainly had a kick but the problem was it only worked within the first forty minutes of one’s day. If the body had been awake longer, the tea was just a very strong tasting beverage with no other benefits. Rodney still often took advantage of it many mornings for a kick start more robust than even coffee but he switched to the substitute after the first cup in the morning.

Teyla was currently briefing the senior staff about the status of the food stores and upcoming missions that would provide trading opportunities with new planets. Rodney just hoped none of the new prospects were only pretending to be simple farmers while in actuality they were building crude atomic weapons in massive underground bunkers. He hated the Genii. They were all idiots. How they had expected to take over the city when none of them even had the gene was beyond him.

Teyla was winding down and Rodney knew he was up next. He hated these meetings. He had much better things he could be doing to keep them alive than listen to reports on tava beans and medical supplies and how many bullets were shot in the last month. Even in the Pegasus Galaxy the world spun on bureaucracy. But he had already protested the valuable nature of his time to Elizabeth multiple times and she had simply told him it came with the title of Chief Scientist. If he wanted to give up the responsibilities he could always turn the job over to Zelenka and he would be in charge. The evil woman knew he would never give up being the boss over the idiotic minions. Radek was better than most of them and was sufficient to be in charge while Rodney was off world but there was no way he was capable of utilizing Rodney’s genius properly.

“Thank you, Teyla. We’ll certainly plan a mission to explore that possibility.” Elizabeth turned her head to Rodney. “Rodney, could you brief us on the repair situation?”

Rodney touched the screen on his tablet. “The repair teams have finally finished repairs, both urgent and needed, to the power systems damaged during the Genii invasion and the storm. There are still a large number of sections of lower levels water damaged by flooding, both over the years since the Ancients abandoned the city and during recent events. However, now the city isn’t going to blow up due to damaged relays, or sink under mile high waves, we can turn our attention to those sections. I’ve sent a request to Major Sheppard for escorts for the science exploration teams in the coming days and weeks. We don’t know what we’ll find down there and having soldiers along is just good sense. I can’t imagine we’ll find a Wraith or anything, I’d think any Wraith on the city would have long starved or come looking for us if they had slept the time away. Wow, can you imagine a ten thousand year old Wraith? I mean, I know Carson doesn’t think they would die of old age, but ten thousand years hibernating? Ick! So, I don’t think there are any Wraith here but we could potentially find something else better dealt with by brute force than brilliant minds. After all, we’ve known since our second day here the Ancients didn’t exactly shut the city down properly before they left. Energy sucking cloud creature, anyone? So, over the next few days and in the weeks to come, I think we should begin exploring the areas most damaged by water that are now accessible, checking structural stability and other safety issues. I’m going to go along with the first exploration to check on the worst sections damaged by the recent flooding, and I think it is a bit urgent. Urgent enough to lend my own presence to the trek, as well as several dozen of my minions. We don’t want to survive the atomic Amish only to have towers collapse due to our negligence.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Fine, Rodney. That’s a good plan. John will assign some guards to your teams. Now, Carson-”

“I have more, Elizabeth.”

The table sighed almost in unison. “What else, Rodney?”

“I finally was able to find the information on the soulmate marks you asked me to research when we first discovered them. I really hate the Ancient database. I don’t understand how they couldn’t have some better search function. Or an index. Or a catalog. I have no idea how the hell they found anything when they lived here. Unless there’s a mental component to the database even super gene carriers can’t initialize, only a pure Ancient. Regardless, I finally found some information.”

Everyone sat forward. “Go ahead, Rodney.”

“Well, about eight hundred years or so before the Ancients abandoned the city there was a scientist named Vestar who was splitting his attentions between the study of ascension, like most of the Ancients, and the study of Wraith feeding and how it actually worked. He conducted numerous experiments that crossed the lines between the two avenues of research of interest to him and one day, I don’t understand the science behind it - it is too tied in with the mysticism surrounding ascension - but he called some force or something into the machine he was using.”

Rodney frowned at his tablet. “I don’t know if it was an already ascended Ancient or some kind of energy being, his notes aren't clear, but the force escaped the confinement he had set up, which points more toward an ascended than anything else, and spread through the city and melded with it or something. It infused the water supply and the air supply and the energy conduits and the food sources and before he could tell anyone, it followed an open wormhole and spread through the Stargate system. Within two days everyone on Atlantis and all of the other remaining Ancient outposts (this was well before the Wraith had spread completely through Pegasus) reported names on their wrists. Even the primitive peoples of various planets were showing these signs. And as soon as a ship docked or connected with any of the affected systems on Atlantis or elsewhere, they, too, developed the tattoos. Vestar speculated the “primitives” were affected through their use of and proximity to the Stargate itself. He researched and found a planet that had only a space gate, and it hadn’t been visited by any ships in the two years (at that point) since the incident. They had no sign of the phenomenon. But within two days of his arrival in his ship, the tattoos appeared.”

“But, why? What was the purpose? Did he say?” asked Carson.

“Well, his original purpose had to do with using the Wraith feeding to force ascension and lead to more powerful ascended Ancients. Ancients really are assholes. Anyway, he didn’t discover the truth behind the tattoos for over five years. Over that period, people had started to meet the names on their wrists and they reported they felt drawn to each other. Sexually. And this was during the time when a lot of the Ancients were losing their interest in “carnal pursuits” as Vestar put it. They focused so much on ascension or the war sex and reproduction became secondary. Plus, evidently the Ancients had discovered the idea of better living through chemistry and technology. Vestar himself lived to be over four hundred years old and from the research I’ve done, he would have lived longer but he ascended. The longest living Ancient at the time of their return to Earth and the abandonment of Atlantis was over twelve hundred years old.” Rodney snorted. “What is it with highly evolved societies? The Ancients decide sex is boring and the Asgard walk around naked because they cloned their sex organs off. Honestly? If that’s the future of humanity, what’s the point? Sex is great. Sex is awesome. They obviously didn’t know how to do it right.”

Elizabeth cleared her throat. “Back on topic, Rodney.”

Rodney blushed lightly. “Right. Well, the Ancients did still reproduce, they just didn’t want to have to have sex a lot to do it, or be pregnant, for that matter. There is an entire tower on the west pier dedicated to artificial wombs and genetic selection and having babies without needing to have sex. Just saying. Carson might want to check it out. It would be a great find if he could get it working for same sex couples who want biological kids from both of them, or couples who have issues with sperm count or womb issues.”

Every single person at the table stared at Rodney and he felt attacked. “It’s all information I stumbled over in my search for Vestar’s research. I’ll send it to Carson and he can check out the ‘science’ behind it. I mean, obviously it worked for several thousands of years for the Ancients. From what I read, the technology was created before Atlantis left Earth to come to Pegasus due to the plague.”

Carson nodded with some enthusiasm. “I’ll gladly take a look at that, Rodney.”

Rodney tapped a few times on his tablet. “Fine. You’ve got it. Anyway, over the first five years after Vestar’s little accident in the lab, several thousand couples, Ancients, regular humans, and mixed pairs were drawn to one another. There were male-female pairings, male-male, female-female, and even a dozen reports of triad groupings. The Ancients who found the names on their wrist had a large resurgence in libido. Then just over five years from the start of the tattoos appearance, a colony was attacked by the Wraith and Vestar discovered the true advantage of the bonding. And I am sure this advantage is what Teyla’s legends came to call the magic of true pairs. You have to understand, to the majority of the Ancients during those five years, until this incident, those who found their named pair and bonded with them were looked down on as - well, primitive, I suppose. The Ancients felt they were inferior and lower. So, this colony was made up mostly of scientists and their bonded partners studying the phenomenon. The colony had a population of three hundred sixty-five and three hundred eighteen of them were bonded. Not all of them were studying it but they felt more comfortable around others who were bonded and therefore didn’t look down on them. So, the Wraith attacked and the colony was swiftly overrun. The nonbonded were easily drained and fed upon as we have seen of others since we got here. But when the Wraith turned and began feeding on the bonded, an inexplicable phenomenon occurred. Instead of the human or Ancient aging and feeding the Wraith, the Wraith aged and the human youthened and strengthened. And once they began to feed, the Wraith was unable to move its hand until it was drained dry.”

Teyla sat forward and looked like she wanted to grab him, so Rodney continued swiftly. “Exactly. So, now suddenly it was a good thing to be bonded and to find the person whose name was on your wrist. And for a while it allowed the Ancients to push back at the Wraith as they were wary of the idea of dying because they fed on someone with a bond. It led to a time of the Wraith actually keeping to their undisputed areas. And if the Ancients had pushed them from there, I think they might have been able to win the war. But they were complacent and felt they could starve them out. Unfortunately, the Wraith are smart and they came up with an ingenious plan of their own to get around the bonded. They took the humans they had as food supply and bred them. Over the next hundred years, Wraith planets grew with essentially human cattle farms. Humans born and raised to puberty without ever being near Ancient tech, thus, no tattoos, no chance of bonding, free food for the taking, never knowing freedom.”

Carson turned his head away, Teyla growled deep in her chest and Elizabeth wiped her eyes, though no tears had fallen down her cheeks. “And once the Wraith had a stable, safe to consume food supply on their own planets, they advanced once more, only they didn’t cull. They spent decades simply destroying colonies, outposts, and developing civilizations, from orbit or with darts. Many of the bonded died and it was this push by the Wraith, and their change in tactics, that led to the Ancients losing the war and retreating to Earth. Once the Ancients were gone, the Wraith began to once again cull planets. Over time the bonded forgot the advantage bonding provided against feeding, and the Wraith’s reaction to it. They began to show off their status by wearing specialized jewelry. Some cultures would show off bare wrists once bonded, while the  unbonded remained covered. And the Wraith, who didn’t forget, used these tactics to learn who was safe to consume and who they should kill outright. And so, populations dwindled and civilizations fell and Pegasus became what it is today. With the populations so spread out and the people relatively primitive compared to their ancestors, finding the person whose name was on your wrist was difficult and the idea of bonded pairs became more myth than truth.”

Elizabeth frowned at the table. “I - I’m not sure how to deal with the information on the war and Wraith tactics you’ve just revealed, Rodney. And I think it’s something we need to think over and come back to. It has little current relevance. It is a historical atrocity, like Auschwitz. But, what I want clarification on, at least firstly, why didn’t the force follow the Ancients back to Earth? Why don’t the people of Earth have these tattoos?”

Rodney sighed. “First off, I’m not sure it is simply a historical atrocity . It wouldn’t surprise me if those ‘farms’ still exist. Granted, they are deep in Wraith territory if so, and we can’t do anything for them but I don’t see the Wraith giving up an idea like that. It also explains the Wraith going on about how good defiance tastes. The difference between domesticated cattle and wild buffalo, I suppose.”

“McKay!” Major Sheppard barked out.

Rodney waved his hand in front of him. “Right, sorry. But as to your question, Elizabeth, it is simple. The Ancients were already tattooed but when they returned to Earth, they left their technology behind. Most of them returned to Earth only to ascend, anyway. And the others blended into the human population and had kids, leading eventually to those like the major with his super gene. So, the humans of Earth and the Ancient tech on Earth (like the Antarctic outpost) and in the Milky Way was never exposed to the force.”

Elizabeth cocked her head. “Until we connected to Atlantis.”

Rodney shook his head. “The matter stream is one way. But if we reconnect or if they come here, as soon as they interact with the tech here in Pegasus or the Stargates here, yeah, they’ll get soulmate marks.”

Carson hummed under his breath. “But it would only affect those at the SGC or possibly in Antarctica or Area 51, not the general population.”

Major Sheppard sat up from his typical slouch. “But can we be sure of that? When the Ancients retreated to Earth there was no high tech there to infect. But our computers are connected to the gate and also to the power grid in the mountain. And some of that is run using naquadah generators but parts of the grid interact with the national power grid. And that isn’t even taking satellites and wi-fi into account and how the force - honestly, McKay, we aren’t Jedi - might jump around there.”

Everyone at the table traded looks. Rodney just shrugged and inwardly smiled. He loved when the major showed he wasn’t just a dumb grunt. He still wondered if the scrawled “John” on his wrist was John Sheppard. But he wouldn’t chance the developing friendship with the other man to ask. And as to the points the major raised, Rodney couldn’t do anything about it and if they did reconnect with Earth, this force was so fast it would spread beyond the mountain (if it could) before they could even get the words out to warn them what might be coming.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

John stood in the gate room of Atlantis waiting for Jeannie Miller nee McKay to say her goodbyes before beaming up to the Daedalus for her trip back to Earth. It had been an eventful visit by Rodney’s little sister, to say the least, and Rodney really hadn’t taken it well. Then again, John didn’t think he himself would take it well if a duplicate of himself from another universe showed up. And add having to reconcile and work with an estranged sibling - yeah, he understood Rodney’s crappy attitude lately.

One thing that had been settled and more than confirmed by Jeannie’s presence was that the soulmarks were spreading to the general population of Earth with increased frequency. Her wrist had the name “Caleb” written in a beautiful copperplate script. And she mentioned that her husband had her name on his wrist, though much messier than her tattoo.

The worst case scenario that he had once posited hadn’t occurred two years before when they’d sent the data burst through to the SGC before the Wraith siege. However, the “force” had travelled through the open wormhole and everyone who worked at the SGC had been marked within forty-eight hours. The soldiers who worked in the mountain but had no idea of the gate’s existence had developed marks within a week. And the effect had slowly spread from there. The people who worked at the Antarctic outpost and Area 51 had developed marks the first time tech from the mountain was brought there. And every member of the Daedalus crew had been already marked from their interaction with the mountain before they launched the rescue mission.

And now, all but the most isolated sections of the United States (like the deepest wilderness areas of Alaska) and Canada had been “infected.” Most of Mexico and the northern sections of South America were also marked. Europe was nearly entirely filled with soulmarks and Asia was swiftly following. Much of Africa was unmarked, as was the interior of Australia and some isolated Pacific islands. But it was spreading.

And any time the SGC visited a planet through a wormhole, the soulmarks followed as long as there were humans who lived within fifty miles of the gate. Or humans used it regularly. And another “magical” effect was seen once the markings spread in the Milky Way. If a human infested by a Goa’uld was infected, the Goa’uld lost its ability to control the host. Even before bonding. And if a snake tried to take a marked individual, it died instantly without being able to kill the host with poison. People in the Milky Way were overcome with joy at that, though the Tok’ra were deeply troubled. They could survive in their current hosts but they were much more of a true parasite, they couldn’t take control at all, they could only relay through the host. Which, frankly, John found poetic justice considering their origins as Goa’uld.

And Ori soldiers were developing marks if they landed on planets whose gates had been contacted by a planet that held the force. And the marks seemed to lessen their belief in Origin. And when a Prior was on a planet with the force, they didn’t receive a mark but they lost all connection to the Ori, as did Adria. It was making the Milky Way very costly for them, not only in terms of losing the worship of their own flock who were along for the ride as soldiers, but also making it difficult to gain converts. The Ori’s only option was death and complete destruction for too many planets and that defeated their purpose in coming to convert the masses and gain power from their worship.

Even the Jaffa, originally open to the idea of Origin, were now wary after seeing what the force did among the humans. No Jaffa received a soulmark. Scientists speculated that though their origins were human, they had drifted too far from those genetics for the force to mark them. No other non-human species was blessed with a mark. Not the Jaffa, not the Nox, not the Asgard, only humans no matter what their galaxy.

And in Pegasus, after the discovery of the benefits of bonding, many natives began more active searches for their other half and pair bonds were increasing in the Galaxy as a result. The Atlantis expedition members made sure to spread the word about what bonding meant and how to hide their status from the Wraith. It was simple, really. Keep your mark covered like you always had.

Several members of the expedition had found their soulmates. Chief and first among them, Carson Beckett. He had bonded with a Marine, Laura Cadman who had come with Colonel Everett to break the siege. And shortly after their arrival, once the Wraith were gone, several of the new arrivals bonded with original members of the expedition. And John’s new XO, Evan Lorne, found and bonded with John’s pain-in-the-ass complainer, Dr. Calvin Kavanaugh. There were even four members of the Atlantis expedition who’d bonded with Pegasus natives so far: one Athosian, two from the planet they got most of the tava beans from, and one with a Genii.

John hated the Genii with the heat of a thousand suns but he didn’t take it out on Sandara. She was a sweet blonde whose main passion, other than her bonded and their new baby, was cooking. She worked in the kitchens on Atlantis, making native Pegasus dishes for the expedition.

Many of the expedition hoped to find their mates but John knew of one who simply didn’t seem to care - Elizabeth. John only knew because she had gotten drunk after a bad loss of personnel and revealed in her drunken ramblings her mark was the name of her former fiance, Simon Wallace, whom she had abandoned to lead the Atlantis Expedition. John found out through scuttlebutt she hadn’t even waited or pushed for him to get clearance before she left, and had told him about Atlantis via videotape after they’d left. John found the civilian leader of Atlantis increasingly odd. She wasn’t evil but she had become so focused on the Ancients and the idea of ascension it was disturbing. John had no interest in floating around the cosmos for all eternity, not helping, just watching and judging the “lowers.” But the idea seemed to really attract Elizabeth.

John himself still hoped to find his mate. Two weeks ago he had dearly wished he had already bonded. Granted, he probably would have been tortured a different way by Kolya after Todd was sucked dry but he might have been able to kill him first with the power he’d gained. It had been nice of Todd to give him back those extra years, though. Carson speculated John was physically eight to ten years younger than before his capture by Kolya.

John still didn’t even know if the name on his wrist, “Mer,” was a man or a woman. He wasn’t fussed either way, to tell the truth. The only reason he had worried about it being a man was due to the policies regarding homosexuality and the American military. But by necessity, the rules had changed; the soulmarks didn’t care about gender. Especially after one of the first marks to show up on Earth was a General and the name on his wrist was “Daniel.” It was possible to resist the draw of your bonded, and O’Neill and Jackson had proved it, holding out until it was legal. An early step was the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Then the President had worked with Congress and gotten a change to the Uniform Code of Military Justice so homosexuality wasn’t an issue, except among bigots in the ranks. And honestly, people like that would find some niggling difference to take issue with regardless of the laws.

John watched Jeannie give a last hug to her brother and stepped close to give his own goodbye when he heard something that set his head to spinning and his temper to flaring.

“Come see us more often, okay? Maybe for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Madison deserves to get to know her Uncle Mer.”

“Two things: only if Caleb doesn’t make tofurkey and two, Uncle Rodney .”

“You’ll always be Mer to me and my family. You were born Meredith Rodney McKay and that is who you were until you left home at fourteen. It’s much too late and I’m much too stubborn to change it now, Mer.”

Rodney scowled at her and opened his mouth when he was spun around by a hand on his shoulder. John looked at the other man, his best friend, incredulously. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard but it explained the draw he had increasingly felt around the Canadian.

Mer ?!? Your real name is fucking Mer ?”

Rodney’s lip curled up. “Yes, thank you, Colonel. My parents tortured me by giving me a name that while historically gender-neutral had long since become feminine. So, as soon as possible, I chose to go by my middle name, Rodney. I don’t see how it’s any big deal.”

“You don’t see how it’s any big deal! You - damn it, McKay! What’s my name?”

Rodney’s eyebrows rose. “Colonel Sheppard.”

“Don’t be obtuse, Mer. It doesn't suit you. What is my name?”

“John Sheppard.”

John nodded vigorously and grabbed Rodney’s left arm with his right hand. He pointed to the band around the scientist’s soulmark. “You want to tell me it doesn't say ‘John’ under that band?”

Rodney stared at him, mute. John’s left hand gently pulled the band from around the mark and exposed the name, scrawled, messy but not illegible. He let go of Rodney’s arm and pulled off his own band, showing the childish block printing of the three letters of his own tattoo.

“Three years, McKay. I had no idea your real name wasn't Rodney. No idea the Mer I was waiting for was right in front of me, on my team, my best friend. “What's your excuse?”

The Canadian turned bright red and blustered, “Do you know how popular a name ‘John’ is on Earth? And I don’t even think about the fact that Rodney is my middle name anymore. It is what I’ve been known as for decades, John. Since my parents died nearly twenty years ago , the only people to call me Mer are Jeannie, and now Caleb and Madison. It never crossed my mind the mark on my John’s wrist wouldn’t be Rodney, so excuse me for assuming when you didn’t come forward and ask me, subtly or outright, if my tattoo said John, that you didn’t have my name! I’ve been incredibly attracted to you since we met, even before we got these silver markings, I’ve never been picky in the gender of my sexual partners, but you were military, American military and even if you were bisexual, it wasn’t safe for you to have a relationship with a man until recently, and even then it is really only accepted when the tattoos match. And I wasn’t sure you were bisexual. You pinged my gaydar sometimes, especially with the slouching and the flirting and the hair, but that was soft science, not proof . It retrospect, it is insane how quickly I became so close to you. I don’t do  the friend thing. I’ve never been good at it. But we became so close, so quick. But I didn’t want to risk that. I didn’t want to lose that for what I figured would just be a short lived sexual liaison since you hadn’t told me your wrist said ‘Rodney’. Which, of course, now I understand, it doesn’t. But I could have approached you and asked what it said and we could have gotten together sooner if I wasn’t so attached to our friendship. And frankly, I am feeling physically ill at the thought that if I hadn’t dismissed my given name so readily you wouldn’t have been drained nearly to death two weeks ago! I realize what my emotional stupidity has caused, thank you very much. I nearly lost you, before really finding you and you were tortured by Kolya via that Wraith because I didn’t realize this stupid mystical force might have used the name I haven’t used since I was emancipated as a teenager as your tattoo. I can’t even -”

John took the most expedient route to stop the flow of words and pulled his soulmate to him and kissed him, knowing that would push his mind in an entirely new direction. Rodney was a literal genius who couldn’t turn off his mind and, quite frankly, John looked forward to learning about Rodney’s genius in this new area. He had wondered for years what it would be like to have those beautiful blue eyes focused on him and only him in a bedroom situation and now he was going to find out. It was literally a dream come true.